‘Once Upon A Time in Wonderland’ made its highly-anticipated premiere last night with the aptly titled “Down the Rabbit Hole.” This colorful pilot sets up a tale of romance, redemption, and adventure that will unfold over the course of 13 episodes. Show creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis have promised that this particular story of Alice, Cyrus and the Knave of Hearts will play-out to completion within this short season. Keeping that in mind, “Wonderland” delivers everything we expected to see in the first episode, plus a couple of surprises.
Alice fell down the rabbit hole and disappeared for a while during her fantastical adventures in Wonderland. She returns home to father who has been worried sick. Apparently her romp in Wonderland lasted a lot longer than it seemed and her father feared the worst had happened to his little girl. When she starts telling him about her exciting travels, he calls upon a psychiatrist named Dr. Lydgate. Alice overhears their conversation in which they basically call her a liar, so she vows to find proof of Wonderland’s existence to show her dad that she isn’t crazy. Years later Alice returns to Wonderland. She makes friends with the Knave of Hearts, gets the proof she has been searching for and finds True Love.
We first see the Knave of Hearts (played by a hilarious and endearing Michael Socha) walking down Storybrooke’s main street. He passes by Cinderella and Grumpy on his way into Granny’s Diner. He pours a cup of coffee, the ground quakes and the White Rabbit (appropriately voiced by John Lithgow) pops out of a portal. He tells the Knave that Alice needs help, more specifically, she need him. Cut to Bethlem Asylum in London, England where Alice sits before Dr. Lydgate and other people who hold her fate in their hands.
Director Ralph Hemecker does a nice job of weaving the narrative back and forth between Alice’s present day discussion with the asylum board and her memories of Wonderland. Alice’s father reached his wit’s end and institutionalized Alice (Sophie Lowe) a year ago. After months of treatment, Alice claims she has changed. She tells Dr. Lydgate that she made it all up for attention. That little girl was a fool, grown-up Alice knows what really happened. Cue the flashback!
Alice rushes past the hookah smoking caterpillar (voiced by Iggy Pop), snatching a piece of mushroom as she runs away from the Red Queens’ men. She takes a bite of the mushroom, shrinking to the size of blade of grass and ducks into the only concealment in sight: a genie’s bottle. It is the moment we’ve been waiting for, Alice meets Cyrus (a charming Peter Gadiot) and it is love at first sight as we saw in the sneak peek. Cyrus is immediately taken with the feisty girl who just crashed his pad. He warmly welcomes her with open arms saying his home is her home and tells her that he came from Agrabah. As they get acquainted, Alice tells Cyrus that she retuned to Wonderland for proof of its existence. She’s finally found what she’s been searching for and pulls the disgruntled White Rabbit out of her bag. Cyrus laughs and is relieved to hear the proof is for her father and not a husband or the like. Regardless of whom the non-believer may be Cyrus’ kind and supportive words become the motto for this season: “When you really love someone, you don’t need proof. You can feel it.” (I have a feeling this phrase will recur just like ‘OUAT’s goose-bump-inducing mantra: “I will always find you.”) Alice wishes things could be different in her world and Cyrus comforts her. Now that she’s found his bottle, anything is possible. The genie grants her three wishes and we wonder what they could be.
Back at the asylum the doctor asks Alice what she wishes for regarding her treatment and the next step in her life. With tears streaming down her cheek, Alice snaps back that she wouldn’t wish for anything and she drifts away to another memory. Cyrus gets down on one knee, since it is the custom in Alice’s world. Before he has a chance to give his “charming and eloquent” speech, Alice gleefully says yes. She granted his first wish by setting him free and now his second by saying yes. He shows her his glowing red medallion and says their hearts are forever entwined. In the present we learn that Alice still cries out for Cyrus in her sleep. She can deny it all she wants, but the doctor knows she still believes in Wonderland because she still mourns her one true love. We then see how the Red Queen (Emma Rigby) magically pushed Cyrus over a cliff into the Boiling Sea where he would be lost forever. As Alice cries, the doctor offers her some relief. A procedure can erase her memories of Cyrus. The operation will hurt a little, but the pain will still be less than the heartache she feels now. So Alice signs the consent form and prepares to forget Cyrus and Wonderland.
The next morning, the White Rabbit helps the Knave of Hearts bust Alice out of the asylum. She isn’t too welcoming when the Knave shows up to set her free and he takes offense to her attitude. Alice is content with staying, until the guards come to drag the Knave away and he tells her that Cyrus is still alive. That’s when we see the badass Alice that everyone has been buzzing about. Together, Alice and the Knave skillfully fight their way through a bunch of guards. During the jail-break, Dr. Lydgate catches sight of the White Rabbit and Alice taunts him with a sarcastic, “Seeing things?” The White Rabbit opens a portal to Wonderland and Alice asks the Knave to go with her. He says that he is wanted man over there and it will be dangerous for both of them, but she reminds him that he owes her for saving him once before by getting his heart back and so he jumps through the portal with her.
Alice and the Knave land in a marshmallow marsh which is worse than it sounds. It starts sucking them up like quicksand until the Knave mentions that they are like smores and Alice grabs one of the literal dragon-flies and toasts the marshmallow so they can climb to safety. Before jumping away the White Rabbit tells them that the dormouse (a.k.a. “narcoleptic rodent”) reported seeing Cyrus at the Mad Hatter’s house in the Tugley Woods. The Knave is still wary of sticking around Wonderland, but Alice makes him an offer. She will pay him with Cyrus’ three wishes, which are in the form of little rubies that she has hidden in the heel of her shoe. Once they find Cyrus, she will grant the Knave his wishes. With that deal made we learn of another dark deal.
The White Rabbit lied to Alice and the Knave. He must settle a debt with the Red Queen, so he lured Alice back to Wonderland. (Well, I didn’t see that coming. There must be a good reason for the White Rabbit to be deceiving Alice. Why does he owe the Red Queen? Hopefully well find out soon.) We then learn why Alice was brought back. The Red Queen is working with Jafar (Naveen Andrews.) ‘Aladdin’s’ infamous villain (sadly, sans his parrot companion Iago) wants Cyrus’ bottle and the three wishes. With Alice back in Wonderland, he thinks he no longer needs the Red Queen so he starts strangling her, until she says that he won’t be able to find Alice without her. The Red Queen sees everything in Wonderland and she knows where Alice is at all times, so their initial deal still stands. Jafar lets Red live and flies off on his magic carpet. (This whole scene came off very cartoon-like. The acting was not even as good as it should have been. I’ve seen Rigby give a stellar performance on 'Ripper Street,' so I was surprised by her work here. Perhaps it is just a matter of getting into the groove of a new character and a new show. I felt a little disconnected from this part. Even the way Jafar flew away on the magic carpet came off as a little silly rather than menacing and badass. Instead of being sucked in to the fantasy, I found myself judging the reality of how it just wasn’t clicking…yet.) Meanwhile, Alice and the Knave hit a road-bump on their way to the Mad Hatter’s house.
The Knave studies his wanted poster and reflects on his mysterious past, while Alice takes off her shoes. The Knave stares at the shoes containing his wishes and Alice climbs up the tree for a better look at their path to the Hatter’s place. While up in the tree the Cheshire Cat’s (voice by Keith David) mouth waters at the sight of tasty Alice. Everything is much stranger than Alice remembered and she is surprised when the cat doesn’t warm up to her. The Knave comes to Alice’s rescue and tosses a mushroom into the cat’s mouth, shrinking him to kitty-size (very cool move.) Alice confronts the Knave, who she calls Will, (we'll be learning more about his past in the third, so stay tuned for spoilers) on stealing the wishes and tells him that they wouldn’t work without her. She says, “You can’t steal a wish, it has to be granted.” Will says he knows and asks Alice to focus on the positive: he did come back and save her after all. When they finally make it to the Hatter’s house, there is no trace of Cyrus. The White Rabbit appears and acts surprised that the “dormouse’s tip” was wrong. Will the Knave asks why the rabbit would make Alice go through the pain of losing Cyrus twice, but he does not get an answer. Just then, Alice finds Cyrus’ glowing red medallion on the front lawn and knows that he is still alive. The Knave says that the necklace doesn’t prove anything. That is when Alice echoes what Cyrus said earlier: “When you really love someone, you don’t need proof. You can feel it.” And it turns out that Alice’s feeling is right.
Cyrus is still alive. When he fell off the cliff, he was caught by Jafar’s magic carpet. Jafar is holding poor Cyrus captive as he hangs in a giant bird cage suspended over the lava-like waters. Luckily, Cyrus now has hope because he can feel that Alice is back in Wonderland and it looks like she may not be that far away from finding him.
What did you think Oncers? Did “Wonderland” live up to your expectations? Were you disappointed or pleasantly surprised by anything? Are you excited to see what happens next?
- Badass Alice: Sophie Lowe gave a wonderful performance in this episode. She proves to be a well-rounded actress and really makes you feel for Alice. Her scenes with Michael Socha are full of fun. They have a natural friendly and cheeky banter that works really well. Peter Gadiot is quite the charmer and his scenes with Lowe are heartbreakingly sweet. I really like the development of Alice’s character so far; she is very a likeable and layered, like most of ‘OUAT’s powerful ladies.
- Time period: When is this all taking place? From the Knaves brief stint in Storybrooke, we can tell it is during the nearly 30 years of the curse. However, Alice’s antiquated asylum (creepy lobotomy needle!) and Victorian-era-inspired apparel makes it seem like another time completely. Hopefully, this will be cleared up throughout the course of the series.
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‘Once Upon A Time in Wonderland’ airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.